The height of citrus season is just starting to wind down here in Rome, and I feel an urgent need to get in on as much of the action as I can in the next month or so. Luckily the tiny fruitteria just outside my door is still piled high each day with an astounding assortment of oranges, tangerines, clementines, and lemons.
Other signs of citrus mania are evident on trips to the market. Huge takeaway buckets of sweet oranges are conveniently stacked at the front of my supermercatothere seemed to be one sitting in every creaking, wheeled cart I passed the other day. Even shoppers running in and out for a quart of milk and a pack of toilet paper were grabbing a sagging, red net bag of mandarins on their way to the register. I chose to participate this week with a pyramid of clementines stacked on my kitchen counter; they are like little wet, drippy, squirting balls of candy.
It is all part of the natural, give-and-take balance at play here. The late fall and winter months bring gray, damp, rainy days to Rome, but the upshot is that you can get an excellent spremuta when you dash into a bar to dry off from a sudden downpour. Spremuta d’arancia is fresh-squeezed orange juice, a guaranteed mood elevator in colors that range from deep gold to coral-pink, depending on what type of oranges used that day. It can be a bright-red spremuta d’arancia rossa if they have blood oranges in the house.
Every bar has a juice-makin’ machine, some flashier than others, and a skilled barista can slice and squeeze four or five oranges almost as quickly as he can pull a shot. It doesn’t take much longer than that to gulp down all of the sweet, pulpy goodness.
The spremuta ritual is sadly lost on most tourists, who are understandably too distracted by the need to have as much of Rome’s famed coffee as they can in the short span of time that they have here. Plus, there are all those tricky Italian coffee rules to navigatecappuccino or not after noon, standing vs. sitting, the absence of to-go cupswho the hell has time to figure out what a spremuta is in the midst of all that?
Italians, in the meantime, debate over which local haunt makes the best spremuta in terms of quantity, not quality. Beware the bar that serves a stingy spremuta. My neighbors have already taken me under their wing and warned me, for my own good.
Gina DePalma is the pastry chef at Mario Batali's Babbo restaurant in New York City and the author of Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen. She is currently in Rome researching for her next book and further exploring her passions for Italian food.